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March 25, 2015

New Orleans-style red beans and rice, with shrimp {gluten-free}

New Orleans-style red beans and rice, with or without shrimp, makes every day Mardi Gras!

In the final weeks before we moved from the log house to our city space, we dipped into the pantry almost every night to use up ingredients before the move. Some of our from-the-pantry creations were winners, others not so much. This red beans and rice variation, one of the keepers, came together quickly after I soaked dry beans overnight and then cooked them in the pressure cooker (I'd already run out of canned beans, which would be a fine substitute). Typically, the rice would be prepared separately, but I cooked it right in with the beans. If you omit the shrimp and use water instead of chicken stock, you'll have a hearty vegetarian main dish. Try to use homemade stock if you are gluten-free, but again, you can swap in store-bought low-sodium chicken stock. Don't wait until next year's Mardi Gras to enjoy this New Orleans-style recipe; make dinner a celebration, at any time of year.

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March 22, 2015

Lighter chicken and black bean enchiladas

Lighter chicken and black bean enchiladas, fun to make with the kids!

In the house where I grew up, nary an enchilada graced our dinner table. In fact, we never ate any Tex-Mex or Mexican food at all. (A deprived childhood. I know that now.) In my own kitchen, I love to create pans of enchiladas with leftover bits from the Thanksgiving table, and sometimes I make the classic combos, too. This version of the popular creamy chicken and black bean enchiladas is a little bit healthier without losing any of the gooey goodness that makes them crave-worthy. Use whole wheat low-carb tortillas, low-fat cheese, and nonfat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream in the filling; you won't miss a few calories and carbs. I love my own crazy mixed-up red enchilada sauce, which gets its light, bright flavor from sofrito; a good-quality canned sauce will be fine if you don't have time to make your own. The small amount of green chiles doesn't make these very spicy, but you can leave them out if you wish. Let your kids help you fill and roll the enchiladas for some family fun in the kitchen.

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March 21, 2015

Cashews: like or dislike?

Cashews

Welcome to Like or Dislike, where you get to share how you really feel about ingredients from the pantry, ingredients I'm thinking about adding to my pantry, other seasonal foods, and favorite cooking gear. The things you like are sure to find their way to the recipes here on The Perfect Pantry, so do tell.

Of all the nuts in all the world, my favorite -- the cashew -- isn't a nut at all. Native to Brazil, cashews are actually seeds of the cashew apple fruit, though in cooking and for snacking, cashews behave just like nuts. As a teenager, I always picked the cashews out of the mixed-nut canister, and today, when I'm lucky enough to get on a flight that offers some hot mixed nuts with my free drink (okay, that's not very often), I still pick out the cashews and pass the rest off to my travel companion. Maybe it's the crescent shape that attracts me, or maybe it's just the creamy mild flavor of cashews that I love. Nuts or not nuts, they've always been top of the bowl for me.

Cashews: like or dislike?

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March 18, 2015

Spicy beef, bok choy, and bell pepper stir-fry

Spicy beef, bok choy and bell pepper stir fry: the ultimate comfort food.

For some people, comfort food means mac and cheese, or meatloaf and mashed potatoes. For me, a spicy stir-fry soothes the spirit, and just the act of cooking one, the chopping and prepping and tossing and stirring, calms me down. It's been a crazy month as we've moved from country to city. We're settling in quickly, thanks in no small part to my husband Ted's hard work and tireless box-lugging, and I've been breaking in the kitchen by cooking my own brand of comfort food dishes. Now that I live a few blocks from Ming's, a great Asian supermarket, I can find hard-to-find vegetables like baby bok choy, which is the perfect size for stir-fry recipes like this one. To prepare it, simply slice each little head in half lengthwise. Of course you can use a regular head of bok choy, and cut it into large pieces, or even substitute another type of cabbage. And you can swap chicken or tofu for the beef. Chili paste with garlic, oyster sauce and soy sauce combine for my favorite stir-fry flavoring, and to my way of thinking, there's really no substitute for it.

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March 15, 2015

Mediterranean couscous, tomato, cucumber and feta salad {vegetarian}

Mediterranean couscous, tomato, cucumber and feta salad takes a bit of inspiration from all around the sea.

A real-life Boston friend, on vacation in Key West, posted on Facebook the other day, "If you're on the street or in a shop, and happen to mention you're from Boston, at least five people will come over to you to commiserate about the snow." We're having a crazy winter here, and perhaps that has put me in a Mediterranean frame of mind. I'm craving the sun and the sea, blue skies, outdoor cafés, long lazy lunches, naps in a hammock, and warmth. A jar of Israeli couscous inspired this quick and easy salad that takes a little spin around the Mediterranean, with bits from Greece, France, Italy, the MidEast and North Africa. I love the large, chewy nuggets of Israeli couscous; you could substitute Italian fregula sarda, or any small-grain couscous, if you prefer. Or orzo or ditalini. You get the idea. Chop up some oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes or your own slow-roasted tomatoes; the oil adds tons of flavor, so don't drain the tomatoes before adding them to the salad. Throw in some crunchy fresh vegetables and parsley, and toss everything with a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing, just as they do in countries that border the sea.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my tiny kitchen in Boston's South End, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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